A four-party agreement among the Centre, the Mizoram government, the Tripura government, and an apex body of the internally displaced Brus, will be signed on January 16 in the presence of Home Minister Amit Shah to arrive at a solution for the Bru repatriation issue that has been going on for 22 years.
Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga made this announcement at a function in Aizawl on Monday, January 13, after inaugurating an office of the Mizo National Front (MNF). He said that the Union Ministry of Home Affairs had informed his government that the agreement will allow the displaced Brus to permanently settle in Tripura. “The agreement will be signed between officials of the Union Home Ministry, the chief ministers of Mizoram and Tripura and leaders of Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF) in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi on Thursday,” he said. He also added that he would live for Delhi on January 15.
An 11-member delegation of the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), the apex body of the migrants, left Tripura on Wednesday for New Delhi to attend the crucial meeting which top officials of the Union Home Ministry and the Mizoram and Tripura governments will attend, reported Outlook India.
However, the Bru refugees are not too happy with this. “We want to return to our homes in Mizoram, but without ensuring our safety, security and livelihood, how can we go back amidst uncertainty,” Bruno Msha, general secretary of the MBDPF told media, according to the Outlook report. He added, “The quadripartite meeting in the presence of the Union Home Minister is likely to be held on Thursday. Government should consider the future of our next generations. There are more than 7,000 children in the refugee camps, what would be their future?”
Msha also said that the displaced tribal people are willing to go back to their villages in Mizoram, but the Mizoram government is too stubborn to solve their basic issues permanently, which has resulted in the failure of the previous repatriation processes. The MBDPF wants that the Dampa Tiger Reserve Sanctuary in Mizoram be de-reserved so that tribal refugees can be rehabilitated there. Their other demands include a development package by the Union Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) and Tribal Affairs Ministries for long-lasting and all-round development of the backward Reang tribals and providing security to the tribals by a Central para-military force.
The Bru people inhabit an area consisting of parts of Mizoram, Tripura and the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. In Tripura, they are known as Reang, whereas the people inhabiting Mizoram prefer to be called Bru. The tribe is not a part of the larger Mizo identity, and forms one of the minority communities in the state. In the year 1997, the Bru National Union (BNU) passed a resolution demanding an Autonomous District Council, which was strongly opposed not just by the government, but also by the powerful Young Mizos Association [Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP)].
The demand for political autonomy was rejected, and the hardline elements within the movement launched an armed struggle. In 1997, the Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) allegedly killed a Mizo forest guard in Mamit district. The killing received widespread condemnation, and was followed by ethnic riots, forcing 35,000 to 40,000 Bru villagers to flee Mizoram and seek shelter in camps in Tripura.
The refugees have lived in refugee camps in Tripura for over 20 years. According to a relief package announced by the government six months after Bru migrants’ arrival in Tripura in 1997, 600 grams of rice are provided daily to every adult Bru person living in the camps and 300 grams of rice are allotted daily to minors. The package also has provisions for cash dole of Rs 5 per adult per day, Rs 2.5 for every minor in a day, a soap in one year, a pair of slippers every year and a mosquito net in every three years.
In October, 2019, the supply of rations to the refugee camps was stopped on the instructions of the Home Ministry in a bid to hastily complete the repatriation of the refugees to Mizoram. “...There will be a number of casualties due to starvation in the next few days as it is already 24 days since the rations and cash-dole have been stopped. The hungry and desperate camp inmates do not have any alternative option but to block the main road, looting of Government Godowns, etc. for their survival,” read the letter written by the refugees. Following the stoppage of rations, at least six refugees, including four children, had allegedly died due to starvation.
The central government had asserted that its ninth attempt to repatriate the Brus would be the last one, following which it would no longer offer any rehabilitation package. Of the 4,477 families identified as bona fide residents for repatriation during the last round, only 289 families had returned during the last round of the exercise.